Execution of power: Even governor’s ally couldn’t alter outcome of Palmetto Pipeline
By David Pendered
In the end, not even lobbyists who work with a firm led by the vice chairman of Gov. Nathan Deal’s transition team in 2010 were able to defend the Palmetto Pipeline. The pipeline company has suspended the project, and won’t say if it’s dead or merely delayed.
Kinder Morgan, Inc., the pipeline developer, didn’t waste a moment after Deal said Georgia would fight the pipeline that was to run along the Savannah River in order to deliver petrol products to Jacksonville, Fla.
The day after Deal delivered his pronouncement, on May 7, 2015, lobbyists with Troutman Sanders Strategies registered with the Georgia Transparency Commission as representatives of Kinder Morgan.
TSS was co-founded in 2002 by Troutman Sanders, the noted Atlanta-based international law firm, and former state Senate Majority Leader Pete Robinson.
Under Robinson’s leadership, TSS has grown from its Atlanta office to an organization with more than 20 lobbyists stationed in Atlanta, Richmond, and Washington, according to the firm’s website.
Robinson was an early supporter of Deal in his 2010 campaign for governor.
According to campaign disclosure reports, Robinson’s contributions that year include $250 in March 2010; $3,700 in July 2010, when Deal’s campaign needed cash to wage the primary runoff election; and $850 in October 2010, in the final days of the campaign against Democratic candidate, and former governor, Roy Barnes.
After Deal beat Barnes, Deal tapped Robinson, who’d served as a Democrat, to serve on Deal’s transition team. The team was chaired by Rogers Wade, who chairs the board of Georgia Public Policy Foundation. Robinson served as the transition team’s vice chair, alongside John Watson, Gov. Sonny Perdue’s former chief of staff, and Philip Wilheit, a Gainesville businessman.
On behalf of Kinder Morgan, TSS deployed three well-regarded lobbyists to represent the company at the state Capitol: Robb Willis, Ragan Marsh, and Lawrence Bell. These three were augmented by three contract lobbyists hired in the ensuing months: Amy Hughes in June 2015; Stephanie Kindregan in August 2015; and Lee Hughes in February 2016, according to the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission (formerly the State Ethics Commission).
Each lobbyist was paid at least $10,000, state records show.
Robinson did not register as a Kinder Morgan representative. Robinson did register as a lobbyist for TSS, which enables him to represent the firm’s clients at the state Capitol.
In choosing Robinson’s team, Kinder Morgan evidently chose not to reenlist its prior team of lobbyists, who also are well regarded.
The prior team, affiliated with GeorgiaLink Public Affairs Group, includes former state Sen. Skin Edge; former state Rep. Boyd Pettit; and longtime lobbyist Tripp Martin.
Their client roster includes the Atlanta Braves and the entity facilitating the Braves’ move to Cobb County, the Cobb-Marietta Coliseum and Exhibit Hall Authority – which sold $372.6 million in revenue bonds to help fund the SunTrust ballpark.
The TSS lobbyists labored throughout the session to defeat House Bill 1036, which would have delayed, if not killed, the Palmetto Pipeline.
Despite their efforts, the Legislature approved the bill that establishes a commission that is to review the state’s position on petrol pipelines. The commission is to report by Dec. 31, and HB 1036 states that no pipeline activity may begin until after the Legislature has time to consider the issue.
The bill states that no pipeline activity may go forward until at least the month Kinder Morgan’s pipeline was to open – July 2017.
Kinder Morgan subsequently withdrew from the battlefield. The company posted the following statement on its website:
- “Notice: Kinder Morgan has suspended further work on the Palmetto Pipeline project, following the unfavorable action by the Georgia legislature regarding eminent domain authority and permitting restrictions for petroleum pipelines. While this legislative action was disappointing, we remain committed to providing customized transportation solutions to our customers.”
Kinder Morgan was committed to the project because it had enough commitments from clients to pay for the pipeline. A top Kinder Morgan official was talking in November 2014 as if the project were a done deed. The final three words of his statement proved prescient:
- “We are pleased that we received sufficient shipper commitments to proceed with the project, and we will be notifying shippers of awarded capacity in November,” said Ron McClain, president of Products Pipelines for KMP. “Contract terms will range from five to 10 years per shipper, and the project remains on track for an in-service date of July 2017, pending regulatory approvals.”